What does Hallelujah mean?

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Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah Meaning

Song Released: 1984


Covered By: Rufus Wainwright (2007)


Hallelujah Lyrics

Lyrics removed by the request of NMPA

  1. 1TOP RATED

    crissy
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    Feb 1st, 2009 2:27pm report


    Most of the interpretations I have heard refer to biblical stories and of course it is impossible to ignore the analogies with King David and Bathsheba. However,I think these can obscure the meaning of the song and I would rather go beyond them. Analyzing a poem line by line sometimes misses the core of meaning which may actually be not fully realized by the poet himself.What after all was Kubla Khan, Coleridges poem about? It came out of a drug-induced reverie and the words are impossible to interpret literally.

    What I see in the poem is a man who finds it hard to reconcile his own singular personal quest for truth as a spiritual seeker and as a creative artist with earthly love.He is "overthrown" by the beauty of the woman bathing on the roof and intoxicated with desire for her yet with that comes compromise.Being tied to a kitchen chair suggests being bound to domesticity and having his hair cut recalls Samson whose strength was lost when Delilah cut his hair.He feels he has sacrificed his power for ephemeral sexual desire,emotional needs and freedom from the burden of loneliness.

    And inevitably the hallelujah, the ecstasy fades and withit bitterness and disillusionment since his lover has no feeling for creativity as evidenced by her lack of interest in music,his explanation of which seems to fall on deaf ears.

    At the same time,the sexual magnetism, "down below" has diminished or even gone in the way that the energy of many relationships weaken into dead habit.

    So there is a sense he has been left with nothing, doubting a god above and likening earthly love to a gunfight.It is as if he has betrayed his deepest yearnings and is only left with a cold and broken hallelujah, an empty exhortation, a state of inner desolation.

    Yet the tone of the song is so bittersweet, so beautiful and sad that there might be a suggestion that he has reconciled those feelings and accepted the limits of the relationship,knowing that even sharing a life with someone cannot assuage his inner loneliness.

    Hallelujah is a beautiful,ironic and melancholy masterpiece.



  2. 2TOP RATED

    anonymous
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    Mar 27th, 2010 3:45pm report


    The first time I heard this song it touched me. Both the melody and the words are really powerful. This is my interpretation.

    The logic of the song is there can be many different hallelujah's. Hallelujah can be said in many different circumstances.

    Lennard Cohen uses this theme to talk about the hardships of love.

    There are many biblical references in the song (King David, Samson and Delilah). I will not go in to them, other have already explained these references in great detail.

    There are many versions of this song. Even LC did not always sing the same verses.
    I believe the version he performed during his 2008 tour (maybe still does) is the most logical (complete):

    Verse 1:
    Now I've heard there was a secret chord
    That David played, and it pleased the Lord
    But you don't really care for music, do you?
    It goes like this
    The fourth, the fifth
    The minor fall, the major lift
    The baffled king composing Hallelujah

    David loves music, but his love does not. He does not understand this (is baffled) and tries to explain (the cords are matched by the actual song), thus composing the Hallelujah.
    I believe this is about unmatched intrests in a relationship.

    Verse 2:
    Your faith was strong but you needed proof
    You saw her bathing on the roof
    Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
    She tied you
    To a kitchen chair
    She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
    And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

    The man (David) falls in love, but the relation is not a healty one. It ends up with him submitting and losing his powers. It is a distructive relationship and the Hallelujah is one of dispair.

    Verse 3:
    Maybe there's a God above
    But all I've ever learned from love
    Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya
    And it's not a cry that you hear at night
    It's not somebody who's seen the light
    It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

    Maybe the most "black" verse, reflecting on the bitterness of love. When you hear a Hallelujah it's probably not because of joy (seeing the light), but because someone is hurting.

    Verse 4:
    Baby I have been here before
    I know this room, I've walked this floor
    I used to live alone before I knew you.
    I've seen your flag on the marble arch
    Love is not a victory march
    It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

    The relationship still exists, but it's hollow. It is like it was when he was alone. He has seen the glorious side of love (the flag on the marble arch), but the love is not lasting and his hart is broken, therefore the Hallelujah is cold and broken.

    Verse 5:
    There was a time you let me know
    What's really going on below
    But now you never show it to me, do you?
    And remember when I moved in you
    The holy dove was moving too
    And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

    He remembers when things were good, how their lovemaking made him feel like they were really together, and their Hallelujahs were those of joy and ecstasy.

    Verse 6:
    I did my best, it wasn't much
    I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
    I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
    And even though
    It all went wrong
    I'll stand before the Lord of Song
    With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

    The conclusion of the song: Here LC turns from looking back to looking forward.
    We try, but often fail in love. We start with the best intentions and though it can go wrong, we need to try. In the end it is worth it. This Hallelujah is optimistic, because it shows that the hardships have not defeated him.

    This last verse is not included in most covers, but for me the last verse makes the song complete. It takes it full circle, bringing back the biblical relationship between the subject and a (the) Lord. It also gives the song a hyperbolic ending, which I prefer.



  3. 3TOP RATED

    anonymous
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    May 20th, 2009 5:07pm report


    Interpreted by : Francis O'Brien
    **Many times Cohen says hallelujah in many different contexts; this is the core of the song and will be explained at the end of the analysis.

    For the first part:

    Now I've heard there was a secret chord
    That David played, and it pleased the Lord
    But you don't really care for music, do you?
    It goes like this
    The fourth, the fifth
    The minor fall, the major lift
    The baffled king composing Hallelujah

    This relates to the story of King David who was had an intimate relation with god and was also a great harp player (secret cord/pleased the lord). The hallelujah at the end of this verse is a happy and spiritual one.


    Second part:
    Your faith was strong but you needed proof
    You saw her bathing on the roof
    Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
    She tied you
    To a kitchen chair
    She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
    And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

    In this part Cohen relates to the story of David and Bathsheba when David was walking on the roofs he saw her bathing and seduced her ending up committing adultery and lost a lot of influence and weakened his link with god (broken throne). Then we move to the story of Samson who gets his hair cut and loses all his powers, once again, a broken throne. In this verse, the hallelujah is a very sad and desperate one.
    Third Part:
    Baby I have been here before
    I know this room, I've walked this floor
    I used to live alone before I knew you.
    I've seen your flag on the marble arch
    Love is not a victory march
    It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah
    In this part Cohen talks about the ambivalence of love and its effect on your faith. It can be glorious like a flag on a marble arch or it can be cold and broken. And when in heart break you may lose or strengthen your faith, in this case it is strengthened because he still praises the lord in the end. In this case, the hallelujah is (obviously) cold and broken.

    Fourth Part:
    There was a time you let me know
    What's really going on below
    But now you never show it to me, do you?
    And remember when I moved in you
    The holy dove was moving too
    And every breath we drew was Hallelujah
    This is an obvious reference to sexuality and that even through an act as disgraceful as sex you can still praise the lord. In this verse the hallelujah can be interpreted as an “orgasmic” one.



    Fifth Part:
    You say I took the name in vain
    I don't even know the name
    But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
    There's a blaze of light
    In every word
    It doesn't matter which you heard
    The holy or the broken Hallelujah
    This is a reference to one of the ten commandments and through this Cohen is trying to make the listener understand that religion and faith is not etched in stone and that every one should interpret the holy texts and religion in his own way and that there is no “Right Way” to believe. This is an uncertain hallelujah, meaning that he is not sure what to believe but he believes anyway.
    Sixth Part:
    I did my best, it wasn't much
    I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
    I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
    And even though
    It all went wrong
    I'll stand before the Lord of Song
    With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
    In this part, he has found what to believe in and realizes his past errors but he is ready to face the lord because he now has complete faith. This hallelujah is one of total faith and love for “the lord”.

    Hallelujahs:
    The song revolves around the word Hallelujah, which is a Hebrew word which means praise Yah/Jah or the Lord. And through the song, he says that all Hallelujahs are of equal value no matter the circumstance or the cause of the act. Weather it is in complete blissful faith or is from broken desperation, all ways and goals to prise the lord mean the same and are all equal.



  4.  

    anonymous
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    Feb 22nd, 2:39pm report


    This is one of my top ten favorite songs of all times. I am not, in any way, making light of one line that confuses me.
    I ask: What was that woman doing bathing on the roof?
    Oh ... sun bathing, I guess! I never thought of that. Duh!
    I will read every interpretation a bit later. Then will come my total confusion!
    Thank you for all that you have given us, Leonard.
    Your Fan,
    Suzanne : )



  5.  

    anonymous
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    Feb 19th, 2:44am report


    My interpretation is that this song reflects the post-holocaust agnosticism that is present in many parts of the Jewish community. It reflects a tension between wanting to believe, but not being able to believe in the face of the horrible suffering of the community at the hands of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia.



  6.  

    anonymous
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    Feb 17th, 2:45pm report


    i take it as a man who had a perfect relationship and was drawn to another woman, and in the end relized he had made a mistake and lost his perfect relationship. beautiful woman on the roof, tied him to a chair and cut his hair. lost his faithfulness to his love, and it was never that same in the end



  7.  

    anonymous
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    Feb 5th, 2:01am report


    The speaker in the song has gone from being alone to the euphoria of falling in love,albeit with the wrong person, to finally learning how truly alone you can feel, while still in that same relationship.

    I think the word hallelujah is not being used to praise God, but rather as a bittersweet "eureka", as in "oh, now I understand....how disappointing....how very, very disappointing".



  8.  

    anonymous
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    Dec 22nd, 12:49am report


    Not an interpretation of the song, just something i felt. Replacing the "hallelujah" to "I love you" seems to work perfectly with almost every verse.

    A hard relationship, when despite your feelings of lost power and self, she still pulls the words from your lips despite the way you feel.

    When in the early stages of passionate new love, when every breath is I love you.

    When the relationship gets hard. When you feel alone in your inner self, realising that learning to touch someone else or make them feel cherished, doesn't cure the feelings of isolation or self-loathing and the lack of fulfilment. When even though you've lost hope that they will be your redemption, when you're cold, and alone, and broken, you still love them.

    When all is past and all is failed, he still stands in song, with the words I love you on his lips, whether referencing a person, or a safety and reliability in his passion for music.



  9.  

    anonymous
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    Dec 8th, 12:34pm report


    This song is a beautiful melody with mostly meaningless words. The couplets rhyme, that's about it.

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway


  10.  

    anonymous
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    Dec 5th, 12:56pm report


    It's about sex, impotence and getting old. It's a metaphor which uses biblical imagery to put forward an idea. It is composed by an heretic and it is absolutely beautiful in the message it tells. It also takes the piss! This is LC do you really believe he's producing hymns? Fcuk me you are a bunch of wankers.

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway


  11.  

    anonymous
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    Dec 3rd, 12:36pm report


    I think this is definitely about a relationship he was in and its stages. References to God and the bible just parts of his comparisons to what he has been thru from the beginning of the relationship to the end. The indication to me is most relationships run this course over time. I can relate to the stages he describes in each verse. The stages are not in order, he just describes each one as he feels or remembers them. From the beginning where you have the euphoric love relationship to the when the love ends, and his best protection is to be the one to end it first (shoot first), that way you don't get hurt as much. But his love of music (maybe writing it) will always be what gets him through it, and he doesn't understand how others could not relate to that. The reference to God above is just whether God controls our destiny or not in these affairs, he doesn't know. The different hallelujah's are the example of how you feel in each stage of the relationship. It's quite simple.



  12.  

    anonymous
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    Oct 31st, 10:03am report


    To me the song is about finding our true selves and the realization of how truly powerful and beautiful we all are. The majority of our lives we are seeking the approval of others-our parents, lovers, employers, spouses, friends, children and society in general. We give away our power by always looking outside of ourselves and to others for love and validation. When we realize that EVERYTHING we have EVER felt, perceived or experienced was ALREADY within us and came from us and NOT from anyone else- THAT is both the Hallelujah and the BROKEN Hallelujah! Realizing our error of looking outside of self instead of looking within-The Joy and The Sorrow-Hallelujah!



  13.  

    anonymous
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    Oct 13th, 10:31pm report


    I think all the interpretations are overwrought. I bet even if Leonard wrote it with some serious meaning in mind, he lost sight of it, because it is about everything written above and about nothing. I think one should stop trying so hard to interpret and just listen or sing it with the gusto each verse demands, the religious fervor, the sexual fervor, the daily life fervor (which I do not think it is about AT ALL). I think it is about LOVE, both sacred and profane, God and a woman, spirituality AND sex, both kinds of love are good and demand a Hallelujah, because they all take work and effort and faith. Neither is perfect, neither can be depended upon, neither will save us (whatever that may mean). Love is good. Period. Don't try to interpret any further than that. It's not necessary for an appreciation of this beautiful song that sounds so religious, but isn't.



  14.  

    anonymous
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    Oct 1st, 10:36pm report


    David was one of the few men who learned to bring the Church into Praise and Worship. Worship is our LOVE response to our Creator. We LOVE God because He first LOVED us. We don't know what LOVE really is until we meet God, and LOVE is one of His Characteristic. When we feel like we've violated that trust and LOVE we feel empty and lost without our TRUE LOVE. David and Bathsheba both should have been STONED to death. But here we see God's marvelous LOVE through God's GRACE toward them. Isn't it wonderful to find that secret (chore)that hiding place where you meet with God in your life that no one else knows. Only to think you've lost it. Even to sing Hallelujah seems empty when you have separated that LOVE by sin. God cannot have sin in HIS Presence, but when David came to say he was sorry he found his song again. I will confess my sin unto the LORD, Who is Faithful and Just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Not just some unrighteousness, but ALL of it. God is not mad at mankind, but He would like us to learn from our mistakes (SIN). Jesus came to restore LIFE to us not to punish us. If you will draw near to Me, I will draw near to you.



  15.  

    anonymous
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    Sep 24th, 9:27am report


    The meaning is significant to the artist basic faith. The meaning transcends all belief system, because in the end all is vanity.



  16.  

    anonymous
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    Sep 10th, 9:26pm report


    King David's gift of a lifeline to G-d through all ... the Praise of Him:


    At the height of the Jewish Kingdom King David composed/played (for Israel) the most beautiful of songs praising The Creator who is pleased by it, even though He [The Creator] doesn't care about [seek] praise, baffling David, yet...

    We Praise You
    We Praise You

    You want clarity:
    Babylon enticed me (Israel) to stray, then humiliated me and destroyed my kingdom and grandeur [exiled me], and brought out of me...

    We Praise You
    We Praise You

    I was not always grand, I had been without You before, but now I see that in the praise which comes in sorrow, is a love that was lacking in the praise that came in grandeur, and now...

    We Praise You
    We Praise You

    It's real to me now...
    I knew this when all was grand, yet now in the darkness [exile] You have hidden it, I still remember when we [Israel and The Creator] were as one, and my soul was moved, and in everything I did was...

    We Praise You
    We Praise You

    In a further darkness with a faith in doubt, through praising You insofar, in my praise I overcome those [Babylon] who overthrew you, with my exiled Praise [which they tried to eradicate]...

    We Praise You
    We Praise You

    Now [so deep in exile] I (Israel/Leanord Cohen) know nothing, not even Your name which I seemingly am taking in vain [in this contemporary song], but [with chutzpah] don't you not care [as you don't for praise], so praising you is praising you whether holy or ignorant, so [here and now]...

    We Praise You
    We Praise You

    It's all I have here in my coldness, this praise [with "your name in vain"] is how I reach for you, that's what's up! Even though we've gotten here [to the deepest darkest exile, by our own doing!?], here I stand before You ... with nothing [empty] ... with nothing [of our ways] ... with nothing at all, but... King David's...

    We Praise You
    We Praise You
    We Praise You
    We Praise You
    We Praise You
    We Praise You
    We Praise You
    We Praise You........



  17.  

    anonymous
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    Aug 31st, 2014 8:58pm report


    I can only add to two additional points, as I think overall the interpretations are good. The reference to Samson is mistaken. Cutting of hair is a loss of power. David lost power in his love for Bathsheba.

    Also in the prior verse, regarding music, there are minor and major chords but the fifth is referred to as the "perfect fifth" and maybe this is an inability to see perfection that surrounds us through the Creator.



  18.  

    anonymous
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    Aug 27th, 2014 8:56pm report


    I can't be the only one who thinks this:

    ***Maybe there's a God above
    But all I've ever learned from love
    Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya***

    means that despite a probable existence of a supreme being, all I have learned from my experiences is how to survive. Isn't it obvious that the writer was talking about shooting a gunslinger who is faster in drawing his gun out, than the writer himself is? Just my $0.02.

    Disclaimer: I have only read first two pages of various amazing top voted interpretations of this song but I did not find anybody referring to this 'how to shoot somebody who outdraws you" metaphor.



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